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In-province tourism key to Manitoba success during pandemic: Destination Canada

Manitoba’s tourism industry grappling with enormous losses due to COVID-19
Even though it's facing revenue losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Manitoba's tourism sector is confident there's room to bounce back. Global's Amber McGuckin reports.

In-province “staycations” in Manitoba are looking more and more popular this year as interprovincial travel remains restricted in Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Destination Canada’s Gloria Loree told 680 CJOB that research from her organization — a Crown corporation tasked with data-driven marketing of Canada as a tourist destination — shows there’s a lot of demand among Manitobans to visit other parts of their own province.

“We can see it returning in search terms — there’s quite a resurge,” said Loree. “And maybe some good news for Manitobans is the fact that you have a pretty good population base with a history.

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“Manitobans, they do visit their own province, so you have a little bit of track record there… and you also have every year almost two-quarters of a million other Canadians coming into the province, so if things continue on a positive trajectory, I think Manitoba will be able to get back a lot of losses if things don’t open up.”

READ MORE: Winnipeg named tourism hotspot by travel site Expedia

Loree said Destination Canada has been working closely with Travel Manitoba — which, in turn, works closely with Tourism Winnipeg and other local operators across the province.

“We’re seeing 44 per cent of Manitobans already welcoming other Manitobans from nearby communities,” she said.

“We work with our research and make sure the tourism businesses have that information, so they can know there’s not only demand from travellers but also that the community sentiment is high as well.”

A Destination Canada report found that if the pandemic is contained by summer, the province’s tourism economy would see a 25 per cent decrease in tourism spending, which is roughly $411 million lost in 2020… and a ripple effect of a loss of tourism spending of $59 million in 2021.

That would also include 6,827 lost jobs.

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The numbers are even worse if the pandemic isn’t contained until the fall.

Loree said she’s seen interesting initiatives throughout Manitoba — from restaurants selling produce from local farmers to virtual tours of local museums — that are positive signs for when things fully reopen.

“It does bring up some more dreaming and demand for when things reopen, and you’re starting to see some of that reopening happen right now.”

Not all Manitoba communities share Loree’s optimism, however.

Churchill Mayor Michael Spence told 680 CJOB the northern community — normally a tourist hot spot as the polar bear capital of the world — is struggling due to travel restrictions.

“With the beluga season, there are some cancellations. We’re getting cancellations for the upcoming bear season as well… so it’s not looking good. Naturally, we’re concerned like other tour operators… throughout the world, for that matter,” said Spence.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus pandemic leaves Churchill’s tourism sector ‘vulnerable’ — mayor

Churchill, he said, was on a “bit of a climb” last year, with the rail line up and running and an influx of visitors from Canada and abroad visiting the community, but the coronavirus crisis has stopped some of that momentum.

“The resilience of the community is rock-solid. Yes, we’ve gone through some tough times, but we’ve managed to stick together, we work collectively together… we’re all about solutions.”

Spence said making Churchill attractive to other Manitobans — both in terms of affordability and attractions — will be key, and it’s something the town has been working with alongside government, tourism and transportation officials.

“Churchill is such a beautiful place, surrounded by water — the Hudson Bay on one side, the Churchill River, the marine atmosphere that’s here,” he said.

“The beluga whales, the bears that you see along the coast… it’s quite an exciting place, and Manitobans need to come out, and we encourage them to come out and show them the importance of an ocean province.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand that — that we are an ocean province.”

Travel Manitoba called the crisis an opportunity for Manitobans to explore their own backyard.

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“Show Manitoba a little bit of love,” said Travel Manitoba president Colin Ferguson.

“As things continue to open up and opportunities continue to improve and as consumer confidence continues to improve we are in a good position to recapture a lot of our revenue lost given that a high percentage of our revenues are generated by Manitobans travelling throughout our province.”

Churchill’s response to COVID-19
Churchill’s response to COVID-19